Craig DiLouie

My guest today is a very dear friend, Mr. Craig DiLouie.  Craig and I go way back to the early days of Permuted Press, back when it was still being run out of Jacob Kier’s garage.  Since that time I’ve watched him hone his craft and become one of the premier thriller writers of our generation.  He’s tackled zombies with his books Tooth and Nail and The Infection.  He’s done the straight up psychological thriller with Paranoia.  He’s done military sci-fi comedy with The Great Planet Robbery, and his latest, Suffer the Children, nearly tore my heart out.  And in between all that he’s even managed to write several works of non-fiction on lighting and electrical design.  Talk about versatile!

But that’s Craig DiLouie.  When you read him, you get the sense that he can pretty much do anything.  I envy writers like him, so easy to read, so fertile of imagination.  He makes it look easy.

But here’s the thing about Craig.  He is totally sincere.  You cannot be in his presence long without realizing this.  He’s one of the good ones, and that’s the main reason I agreed to join with him and Stephen Knight (you can read my interview with Stephen Knight here) for an upcoming zombie novella project called THE RETREAT.  (You can check out Craig’s intro to that project here.)

But for now, please enjoy this interview with my good friend, Craig DiLouie!   

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Craig DiLouie:  Thanks for having me, Joe! I’m the author of the bestselling zombie novels TOOTH AND NAIL, THE INFECTION and THE KILLING FLOOR. These novels have garnered hundreds of positive reviews from authors like yourself, readers and magazines and websites such as FANGORIA, and they’ve been published in English, Spanish, French, German and Russian. My work differentiates itself from other novels in the field through its gritty realism, original concepts and extreme action. 

My new apocalyptic horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, is coming out from Simon & Schuster in March 2014. Later this year, I’ll be working with you and Stephen Knight on a new self-published series of novellas. (Check out Craig’s official announcement of that project here.) I also blog about all things apocalyptic horror at www.craigdilouie.com.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

CD:  It would depend on the type of zombie we’re talking about. The zombies in my stories run and infect through biting. In that type of situation, humanity would have a very hard time surviving. In that situation, the best way to prepare is to take a yoga class so you’re flexible enough to kiss your own ass goodbye.

As for me, I don’t have a bug-out bag or anything like that. My city just went through some major flooding that resulted in the evacuation of 10% of the population and jeopardized the reliability of power and water citywide, and I was faced with a lot of interesting decisions to ensure my family had everything it needed. While I haven’t gone all the way and prepared for apocalypse, I do believe it’s common sense to make sure you have everything your family would need to survive for a week on its own.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

CD:  My tastes as a reader and writer tend toward the epic. For me, the biggest turn-on about zombies isn’t the zombies, it’s the zeitgeist. It’s the apocalypse and how ordinary people respond to crisis and its impossible choices. It’s not the excitement of being the last man standing, it’s the horror of being forced to fight to survive when there might no longer be much to live for anymore.

As a reader and writer, I also prefer stories about people with zombies or some other apocalyptic threat, not the other way around. For me, character must come first. The reader must care about the survivors.

Some of my favorite stories are your zombie series, Joe, with its realistic depiction of how the police would deal with a zombie apocalypse; HATER by David Moody, with its mind-blowing twist, and RUN by Blake Crouch, which is sort of the American version of HATER; Adam Baker’s series, which offer brilliant thrillers; DUST by Joan Frances Turner; ONE by Conrad Williams; THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell; ON THE THIRD DAY by Rhys Thomas; and HANDLING THE UNDEAD by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Man, I can remember standing in a bookstore ten years ago and seeing DEAD CITY and Brian Keene’s work and that was about it. Now there are tons of great choices for readers and opportunities for good writers.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

CD:  I loved the movie WORLD WAR Z, not really caring how closely tied it was to the book. The movie has an epic feel and is filled with amazing set pieces. Pretty much the entire film would qualify as my favorite zombie kill scene.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

CD:  I think the surge in interest in the zombie apocalypse has more to do with the apocalypse than zombies. In the 1950s, we had Martians, in the ’60s, dystopia, in the ’70s, environmental collapse, in the ’80s, nuclear war, in the ’90s, killer viruses, in the ’00s, zombies. Today, many people feel that things are getting worse and that there’s little they can do about it. Add in things like bird flu and global warming to the normal pressures of holding a job and paying the bills, and there’s a lot of angst in modern life. Reading zombie stories offers a dramatic release. By reading survival horror, people confront danger/death and survive it. By reading an apocalyptic story, they experience the catharsis of “throwing it all away” and the true horror of losing everything that matters to them. As for zombies, well, they’re just scary and fun. Not only has the world ended, but your former neighbors are hunting you. These are the levels of psychic engagement I look for as a reader and try to work into my stories as a writer—personal, in-your-face horror combined with the awe and titillation of the end of the world.

 

That was the one and only Craig DiLouie, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the nicest guy you’re ever likely to meet.  I had a great time hanging with him in New Orleans, and I’m looking forward to the next time our paths cross.

Now that you’ve heard what he has to say about zombies, go check out his books.  Oh, and I strongly urge you to follow his blog.  He has developed some of the best content on any author-driven website out there.

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Stephen Knight

The Zombie Masters Series rolls on as we continue the countdown to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and with me today is Mr. Stephen Knight, one of self-publishing’s huge success stories and one of the genre’s finest writers.  Nobody does military zombie fiction with as much authority, or with the same depth of characterization.  Stephen Knight is, simply put, in a class by himself.

He’s the author of the bestselling zombie apocalypse tale The Gathering Dead and the follow-up novella Left With The Dead.  But he’s far from a one trick pony.  He’s also written the horror thriller City of the Damned and the action-adventure Hackett’s War. And, together with Derek Paterson, he wrote the erotic thriller White Tiger. Knight currently lives in the New York City area, but ought to hurry up getting back to Texas.

I was extremely lucky to land my first novel with a major publisher.  It got me good exposure and great distribution.  For that I am incredibly thankful.  But the more my career develops, the more cognizant I am of the wonderful opportunities present in self-publishing.  I have watched industrious writers like Stephen Knight soar into the public eye by taking control over every aspect of their writing, from story craft to formatting to pricing.  I envy that degree of control.

That’s one small reason why I recently agreed to enter into a fantastic new writing project with Stephen Knight and Craig DiLouie.  We are going to be doing a series of six novellas (of about 40,000 words each) called The Retreat.  Here’s what Craig DiLouie had to say about The Retreat on his website.

As a new disease turns people into sadistic, laughing killers, in Boston, a battalion of light infantry struggles to maintain order. As the numbers of infected grow, the battalion loses control, and the soldiers find themselves fighting for their lives against the very people they once swore an oath to protect.

During the ensuring collapse, the lost battalion learns the Army is still holding out in Florida, which has been cleared of the Infected. Harry Lee, its commander, decides the only hope for his men is to get there. But first they must cross more than a thousand miles of America that has been turned into a war zone, fighting a fearless, implacable and merciless enemy.

The first two episodes will be published in the fall. Stay tuned for this exciting new series!”

But until then, enjoy this conversation with one of my favorite zombie writers, Mr. Stephen Knight!

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Stephen Knight:  Well, let’s see…so far, I’ve released five zombie-theme works: The Gathering Dead, Left with the Dead, The Rising Horde: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and a short story that takes place in the same universe called “The Farm.” All of them deal with the military response to the reanimated dead, because that’s pretty much missing in most of the books and virtually all the films out there. How could this nation’s peerless military simply give up and be overwhelmed? In The Walking Dead, there are tanks and everything lying around, but no indication that there were any major fights, no containment operations, no nothing. I set out to change that a little bit.

My usual approach to the genre is to take the best people suited to handle the zombie apocalypse, throw them into the mix, and then watch as they slowly unravel with their backs against the wall.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

SK:  I have to answer this one in two parts. If I’m in New York City, then I’m majorly screwed. Unless I’m really smart and figure out things are hitting the fan early and vamanos while there’s still time, I might make it. But chances are good that wouldn’t happen. In a metropolitan area like New York, everything’s already difficult to begin with—throwing in the zombie apocalypse would send the city right off the rails in no time at all.

But if I’m at my other home in Connecticut, then yeah, I’m in great shape. Weapons. Food. Access to a boat, which I can use to get out into Long Island Sound. Also access to a plane with a range of around 700 miles. And even though it’s a very densely-populated region of the country, it’s not millions of people in a vertical environment like NYC, so the chances of surviving are quite a bit better, even for a slouch like myself.

But would humanity win? Yes, I think so. Mankind is just too tough to kill without an asteroid hitting the planet or a plague of nanites sweeping through us.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

SK:  I liked World War Z simply because it was an interesting approach to the apocalypse. Craig DiLouie’s Tooth and Nail and The Infection are my biggest favorites, because they track well with my own work, and anything that deals with the military response is always kind of fun to read, especially when it’s as well-informed as Craig’s work is. Mountain Man was a whole different spin on the genre, what with the hero being a hermitic alcoholic, and a Canadian at that. But honestly, I’m remarkably under-read in the genre—there are dozens of titles out there I haven’t read yet, and some I have that aren’t good enough to mention.

Movies are different, I watch a lot of those. Romero’s groundbreaking work, of course, I saw all but the first one in the theater. The remake of Dawn of the Dead was very exciting, and one of the first inspirations that made me want to get around to The Gathering Dead. 28 Days Later was pretty darn good, too.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

SK:  I think when Cillian Murphy beaned a priest zombie in the head with a plastic bag full of Pepsi cans has to rank as number one. (Though I don’t know if that counts as a kill.)

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

SK:  That we need more meat in our diet. And that it’s unfortunate that vegans run slower than the rest of us.

Make sure and check out Stephen Knight’s books here and his website here.

My Favorite Reads of 2010

This was one of the best years for books in a long time. There were no huge standouts, like Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, or Dan Simmons’ 2008 novel The Terror, but even still, of the 108 books I read this year, a surprisingly large number were of outstanding quality…so much so that winnowing this list down to just ten required a lot of purely subjective hair-splitting.

My list is made up entirely of books released during 2010. That meant that some of the 108 books I read this year weren’t eligible, even if they would have otherwise earned a spot here. Jeffrey Eugenides’ serio-comic epic novel Middlesex and John M. Barry’s haunting history of the 1927 Mississippi flood, Rising Tide, are just two examples of books not included for that reason. But beyond date of release, I was fairly open-ended on format, length and genre. Novellas released as a single work, such as Norman Prentiss’ Invisible Fences and Brian James Freeman’s The Painted Darkness got equal consideration with huge epic-sized novels, multi-author anthologies, short story collections, histories and biographies. Some of the books on this list I read in PDF as advance reader’s copies, or listened to on CD, or enjoyed as just plain old dead tree editions, and in most cases I explain that in each entry.

So, here they are, in no certain order…my favorite reads for 2010. Enjoy the list!

Horns by Joe Hill

Both a very funny book and at the same time a well-crafted one, Horns is far better than Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Heart-Shaped Box was a good book, mind you, and his debut collection, Twentieth Century Ghosts, was a great book, but Horns is a cut above either of those. Part Kafka, part Kurt Cobain, part Gallagher, Joe Hill is rapidly becoming one of America’s best novelists, and Horns will show you why. I listened to this one on CD, which helped the humor a lot, I think.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman

Like Horns, an extremely funny book. Zeltserman has made a name for himself as a writer of intense psychologically-driven crime fiction, making this rural horror story a bit of a departure…but I’m so glad he made it. I hadn’t gone twenty pages into this book before I knew it was going to make this list. Good old fashioned hardcover for this one, and worth every penny.

Pariah by Bob Fingerman

Zombies are big business, so it takes a lot of talent to rise above the crowd. Between James Roy Daley’s Best New Zombie Tales #1 and 2, Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead, Ben Tripp’s Rise Again, Greg Lamberson’s Desperate Souls, Patrick D’Orazio’s Comes the Dark, Craig DiLouie’s Tooth and Nail, Stephen Jones’ The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse, Chris Golden’s The New Dead and John Joseph Adams’ The Living Dead 2, 2010 brought out some of the best zombie stuff I’ve ever read. So the competition was extra tough. But my favorite zombie release of the year was Bob Fingerman’s novel Pariah. In addition to being a great zombie book, it was also a beautiful meditation on isolation and the stark, horrifying beauty of post-apocalyptic landscapes. Another good old fashioned dead tree read here, which helped a lot. I generally listen to audio books while driving to and from work, which makes it impossible to give a narrative your full and undivided attention. Inevitably, the idiot cutting you off is going to usurp some of your mental energy, regardless of how good the book is. Bob Fingerman’s description of his characters’ complex emotional states is so finely developed though it really merits the extra attention you have to give a printed book. Listening on CD would have frustrated me here.

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

Mr. Shivers is one of three debut novels on this year’s list. I was on a panel with the author at ArmadilloCon in Austin earlier this year, and I was so impressed with his comments on researching that I stopped off at the Barnes & Noble on the way home and bought his book. His story of hobos looking for revenge during the Great Depression was a delicious mix of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Stephen King’s first Gunslinger novel. I flew through the mass market paperback in a single afternoon, and I can’t wait for his next novel, The Company Man.

Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

Besides being a genuinely classy guy, Norman Prentiss can write horror stories of such subtlety that you will find yourself going over the work three and four times just to see how he managed to do so much with so few words. He’s made a name for himself as a short story writer whose work more closely resembles the fiction found in the New Yorker than in the bulk of horror’s blood-soaked anthologies, but with his debut novel, Invisible Fences, Prentiss has written a short, but moving story that, to be honest, transcends any sort of attempt to pigeonhole it in a genre. I read this one in a limited edition trade paperback, and getting your own copy may prove difficult. Just don’t come looking for mine. You’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay

This was a great year for single author short story collections. I loved Michael Louis Calvillo’s Blood and Gristle, Jeremy Shipp’s Fungus of the Heart, John Little’s Little Things, Laird Barron’s Occultation, Scott Edelman’s What Will Come After, Harry Shannon’s A Host of Shadows and Lisa Mannetti’s Deathwatch, but Tremblay’s In the Mean Time just left me breathless. Calvillo’s work had more energy than Tremblay’s. Shannon’s collection had far better action and variety. Edelman’s had zombies. Mannetti’s had beautifully handled historical fiction. Each of those collections did something better than Tremblay did in his book, but the overall feel of In the Mean Time sold me on this work. It reminded me of a Pink Floyd album, the way it just fit together. I read this one as an ebook and found his apocalyptic visions to be so gut-wrenching that at times I had to go hug my kids just to remind myself that things were going to be okay. A tough read, but ultimately, one you’ll be glad you made.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

This is one of three non-horror books to make this year’s list. Marlantes’ debut was thirty years in the making, but it was worth the wait. I listened to this book on CD, and was simply blown away. I have a feeling Matterhorn will go up on the shelf next to O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as one of the best war novels ever written. Just be prepared for a very gritty, true to life description of war and all its horrors.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Like Bob Fingerman, I found out about Brenna Yovanoff through the table of contents of John Joseph Adams’ The Living Dead 2. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin would have made this a good year for YA all by itself, but Yovanoff’s modern day tale of changelings told the age old teenage drama of fitting in with such originality and beauty that The Replacement transcended its YA field. Perhaps even more impressive is that this is a debut novel. There were some great debuts this year, such as Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s Black and Orange, Lisa Morton’s Castle of Los Angeles, Gregory Hall’s At the End of Church Street, and Lucy Snyder’s Spellbent, but Yovanoff’s book connected with me personally because I have two daughters about to enter that age where they will be trying to define their place in this world. Your mileage may differ, but this one is still highly recommended for anybody in the middle teens and older.

Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields by Charles Bowdon

I’ve been reading an awful lot about the Texas-Mexico border recently as research for an upcoming novel, and Bowdon’s book is one of the best on the subject. He doesn’t go into a great deal of depth about the political reasons behind Mexico’s drug war, but focuses instead on the personal stories of those caught up in the violence and tragedy that defines life in today’s Northern Mexico. After reading this book, I suspect that you, like me, will be furious with the U.S. government and the American media for directing so much attention on the other side of the globe, while one of the most immediate and verifiable threats to U.S. security is at a full boil right next door.

Selected Stories by William Trevor

William Trevor’s stories have been growing discernibly darker in tone over the years, and this volume, which brings together the Irish author’s last four short story collections, goes a long ways toward demonstrating that trend. But Trevor is also capable of writing intensely funny stuff, and you can still find that trademark humor here. William Trevor may very well be the best writer in English working today. His stories, which are always so full of sharp insights into love and ambition and power of major events, such as weddings or the end of an affair, to change many lives, never disappoint. This list isn’t in any sort of order, but if it was, this book would own the top rung. Well worth investing in the hardcover.

And finally, because I’m such a fan of Spinal Tap, I’m turning this list up to eleven and giving you one that almost made it.

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Remember Plato’s Parable of the Cave? In the story, Socrates (pronounced So-Crates, according to Bill and Ted) relates the tale of a group of people who spend their entire lives chained to posts, facing a blank wall. There is a fire behind them that projects shadows on the wall. Because these people lack any other frame of reference, the shadows become their entire world, and their only idea of reality. If you’re familiar with the story, you must have wondered what would happen if those people suddenly got loose and joined the rest of us. Imagine the horror of that much reality crashing in on their minds at once. Well, Emma Donoghue did just that. She tells her story from the point of view of five year old Jack, who lives with his Ma in a single room, with the routine broken only by nighttime visits from a man named Old Nick. The prose is tricky, as it is meant to be that of a five year old, but nonetheless effective, and very frightening.

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